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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Transformation of Deuteronomy in the Second Temple Period

IN BIBLICAL NARRATIVE, THE TORAH crosses the symbolic geographic divide of the Jordan, carried, in the Ark of the Covenant, upon the shoulders of the Levitical priests (Deut. 31.25; Josh. 3.14–17 ). So did the text of Deuteronomy cross the historical divide of the Babylonian exile, borne on the shoulders of the multiple Jewish communities that survived the exile and that developed their distinct identities thereafter. This crucial transition from the First Temple to the Second Temple periods, from preexilic Israelite religion to postexilic religion, represents a major pivot in the history of Israelite literature, thought, and belief. The wrenching force of that transition, as institutions and assumptions underwent profound transformations, created “stress fractures” in the text of Deuteronomy. In many cases, preexilic religious and legal norms became unintelligible to these postexilic communities. Therefore in the process of teaching and translating Deuteronomy, they were forced to translate not only the language of the text but also its ideas: from one language into another, from one historical period into another, from one set of assumptions into another. Sometimes this overlay of postexilic ideas may interfere with understanding the original meaning of the text, even though that overlay now represents the conventional way that Deuteronomy has come to be read and understood. Such cases require attention in the annotations.

As a broader model for understanding such issues, it would be helpful to view the religion of Israel reflected by Deuteronomy in the preexilic period as in many ways a “Near Eastern” religion. This applies preeminently to the original theology of the text, which, like all religions of its time and place, viewed its god as presiding over a “divine council” of lesser deities ( 5.7 n.; 6.4 n. ). From this perspective, texts like the Shema called for exclusive loyalty to God, without thereby denying the existence of other deities, just as Near Eastern treaties required that a vassal swear allegiance to a single political monarch ( 6.4–9 n. ). But once radical monotheism became the Jewish norm in the Second Temple period, under the influence of exilic prophecy, the original “Israelite” view gradually became “foreign” and unintelligible. The Shema could only be understood as affirming the later “truth” of Jewish monotheism. This authentically Israelite religious language seems to have become so alien that the Hebrew text was “corrected” in several cases to bring it into conformity with later Jewish theology ( 32.8 n; 32.43 n. ).

The same issue applies to law. In certain cases, the preexilic authors of Deuteronomy clearly followed Near Eastern procedures. For example, they required the immediate, summary execution of those disloyal to God, as if under the emergency conditions of martial law ( 13.10 n. ). In the Second Temple period, however, this breach of Deuteronomy's own requirement for due process ( 17.2–7 n. ) was understandably seen as contradicting the norms of Jewish law! The text was therefore read and taught as if the requirement for execution were to take place only after the due process that, in fact, it originally bypassed. As a next step, this originally oral legal interpretation of the law was introduced into the text of the law, when Deuteronomy was translated into Greek for the Jewish communityof Alexandria (in the Septuagint, ca. 225 BCE). The conscientious translator could do no less, since that revision of the law was what the law “had” to mean, lest the Torah here contradict Jewish law!

Just as the Septuagint updates the Hebrew in light of later Jewish law, elsewhere the reverse may hold true. On occasion, the Greek version retains classical views of preexilic Israelite religion that have been updated or corrected in the standardized Masoretic Text of the Bible (see notes at 28.69; 32.8; 32.43 ). In such cases, the Septuagint or the Dead Sea Scrolls may open a window into the original meaning of a passage that has been lost in the Masoretic Text. The commentary will therefore take these ancient textual “witnesses” to the text into account, in the hope of recovering what Deuteronomy's original authors sought to say. Since the NJPS translation follows the Masoretic Hebrew version, which is familiar from synagogue worship, it should simply be pointed out that these additional versions are themselves part of Jewish history. Unfortunately, at the level of popular culture, it is often no longer recognized that the Septuagint was a Jewish translation, one prepared for the thriving Jewish community of Alexandria. In translating the Bible into their living language of Greek, that community saw the Torah as also telling their story. Thus, where Deuteronomy's Hebrew refers to the “horror” of foreign invasion as punishment for national wrongdoing, the Septuagint reinterprets that punishment as the contemporary truth of “diaspora” ( 28.25 n. ). The multiple Judaisms of the Second Temple period each had their own way of reading Deuteronomy, and thus of having Moses include them in his oration.

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